Swedish virtuoso Johan Dalene delights Worthing audiences

Johan Dalene by Nikolaj Lund
Johan Dalene by Nikolaj Lund

REVIEW BY Richard Amey

Worthing Symphony Orchestra concert, Sunday 23 February 2020 (2.45pm) at The Assembly Hall, conductor John Gibbons, violin soloist Johan Dalene.

Wolfgang Mozart, Paris Symphony (No 31 in D); Felix Mendelssohn, Violin Concerto (in E minor Op 64); Edvard Greig, Morning, from incidental music to Ibsen’s dramatised poem Peer Gynt); Gustav Holst, St Paul’s Suite, for strings; Sergei Prokofiev, Classical Symphony (No 1 in D minor Op 25).

In a photo, 19-year-old Johan Dalene balances his violin on his left-hand fingertips – much as would the veteran great 1990s Worthing Bears title-winning basketball star Herman Harried balanced a ball. The pose – whether in sport or art – signifies casually supreme dexterity and brain-motor co-ordination.

With many a slip twixt cup and lip, it would be risky to assume this is the 1736 Stradivarius fiddle he has on loan from a Scandinavian fund and which filled the Assembly Hall with every note – yes, every note – of the Mendelssohn Concerto.

Few Swedish basketball players have found western fame and even fewer violinists, though in pop, Abba accompanied several golfers into world fame. Expect perhaps Johan Dalene, to put his country finally onto the world violin map.

His CD debut of Tchaikovsky and Barber concertos has impressed the classical media, he’s newly installed in BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artists stable, and among his top prizes is the Menuhin Junior Competition. He’s got the right boots and T-shirts.

And he’s got the artistic quality, as expert violin and orchestra voices attested after his Mendelssohn account, during the clamorous interval while he signed and shifted all 62 CD copies he had in his pocket. “I could hear every note – each one sang” (West Sussex Music teacher and quartet second fiddler Sally Sanderson) . . . “We could hear everything so clearly” (experienced opera second bassoonist Stuart Russell, to whom Dalene, of course, had his back as he played).

Marvellous articulation at all speeds of tempo, projected through his Strad, furthermore a mature sensitivity to mood switch and nuance – all struck sweetly home in this irresistible music, just like a succession of Kobi Bryant title-winning baskets so whisperingly accurate they never touch the net.

The Mendelssohn Concerto has been long absent from a WSO programme. Whoever played it next would almost automatically have sparked an ovation via its breezy, teeming finale, but the exceptional vocal reception that erupted for Dalene spelt a new WSO darling born. Forte male shouts were topped by fortissimo female squeals and shrieks for the lad in narrow trousers and a French Blue shirt. Not since the noughties years of Boris Brovtsyn, son of BBC Philharmonic leader Yuri Torchinski, has a male violinist come forth to so thrill this audience.

Once we know a piece of music well and have milked its enjoyment in frequent listenings, we may then shy from hearing it, while it embeds in our hearts. In the Mendelssohn’s lyrical moments and sections, with his tenderness and young man’s soul, Dalene moved me significantly and afresh.

Simultaneously did the WSO, with clarinets Ian Scott and Sarah Thurlow, flutes Monica McCarron and Timothy Taylorson, and bassoons Simon Chiswell and Stuart Russell providing that stroking-velvet Mendelssohnian sound cushion, right from as the breathtaking second theme of the first movement.

At that moment, Dalene suddenly made his bottom G string sound just like a viola – browner; saying something deeper inside him. With an imitating phrase effect in the finale, I swear he made it sound just like a clarinet. Throughout the concerto, his rubato was choicely and beautifully applied, yet utterly natural in effect. Each finesse the WSO was attuned to and followed in unification.

WSO artistic director John Gibbons, key also to this fulfilling Mendelssohn experience, has had his Mozart heartstrings awakened in recent years. Not previously would we have readily been offered Mozart’s pre-Viennese fame Symphony for Paris. A Salzburger’s personal dinner dish served up for the cosmopolitan French with tailored dramatic ingredients, this still failed to land the 22-year-old a job, confounding his astute father’s calculations.

We’ll see how ‘The Paris’ engages under Gibbons 10 years hence, perhaps with a slightly wider range of dynamics and tempi, but here it set an elegant yet agile mark for an afternoon traversing several musical styles.

Grieg re-awoke us from Mendelssohn’s dream and Morning was a brief chance for McCarron to apply her golden flute to an Arabian desert morning imagined through a Norwegian eyes. We see her instrument glinting and wonder if she may ever play a concerto here. Such would be beguilingly novel. The graceful Mozart in G, maybe, or, even more entertaining, the fun and charm of the Poulence?

Holst the Briton from Cheltenham, teaching at London’s St Paul’s School, setting his girls a suite, gave the WSO strings their own showcase. They transmitted the sympathetic but incisive voices Holst blessed on the four string sections and their leaders, and the enjoyment of cross rhythms and melodies intended for his budding players as well as listening parents.

And more fun followed from Prokofiev, whose Classical Symphony, not a note too many in his Haydnesque sunglasses but Prokofievian voice, looking away from the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Gibbons and the WSO bustled and bristled with this bi-epochal energy and wit. They wore suave lace and brocade to Gavotte down a Russian town shopping street, and they did the composer’s advertising in the last movement for Prokofiev’s harlots dancing through his Romeo & Juliet marketplace.

This Symphony never fails to turn heads, and warn of oncoming surprises and the WSO have it all in their veins.

Richard Amey

In his programme notes, Gibbons regretted the neglect of Holst’s other main orchestral works, just because it’s assumed nothing can beat The Planets in all his remarkable orchestration, imagination, philosophical content and sense of drama. Watch this WSO space for his symphonic poem, Indra. And maybe Egdon Heath, which could pass here for Cissbury Ring. This audience would now be interested.

Concluding WSO concert of the season – Sunday 5 April (Assembly Hall, 2.45pm): the ongoing lure of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto and the return of Dinara Klinton, who played Tchaikovsky’s First during the 2015 Sussex International Piano Competition final, then Liszt’s Totentanz with WSO a year later. Plus Irish composer Hamilton Harty’s Comedy Overture, Grieg’s In The Hall of The Mountain King (more Peer Gynt), and the little matter of Tchaikovsky’s telling final utterance – his Sixth Symphony, the Pathetique.

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